Disability History Month Book Review #2

Tuesday 01-12-2020 - 10:25

Exile and Pride: Disability, queerness and liberation by Eli Clare

General overview

Eli writes about his experience of being a disability activist in this book, but he also touches on many other areas. He includes his thoughts on environmentalism and how the movement can be detrimental to working class communities, and also the way working class communities are viewed in general. He mentions how queer spaces are often exlsuionary and focused on experiences of people who come from cities. He discusses the idea of what home is, and how traumatic experiences shape how we experience this and leave us feeling displaced in many settings. He also talks about disability history, going into great depth on topics such as the history of freak shows and the complicated relationships that disabled people had with them.

Eli has cerebral palsy and he talks about how this shaped him, and how people perceived him in a certain way because of the way he had slurred speech and would struggle to walk. He gives us an insight into the cruel names people called him, and still calls disabled people today and how this impacted upon him. He brings up the important issue of reclaiming words that were once used to mock us, in both disabled and queer communities, and the complicated relationship some people have with them. He talks alot about the intersectionality between identities and how they all come together in a very complex way to show how intolerant society is.

Favourite quotes

“To believe that achievement contradicts disability is to pair helplessness with disability, a pairing for which crips pay an awful price. The non-disabled world locks us away in nursing homes. It deprives us the resources to live independently. It physically and sexually abuses us in astoundingly high numbers. It refuses to give us jobs because even when a workplace is accessible, the speech impediment, the limp, the ventilation, the seeing-eye dog and read of signs of inability. The price is incredibly high.”

“The mountain as a metaphor looms large in the lives of marginalized people, people whose bones get crushed in the grind of capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy. How many of us have struggled up the mountain, measured ourselves against it, failed up there, lived in its shadows?...We hear from the summit that the world is grand from up there, that we live down here at the bottom because we are lazy, stupid, weak and ugly. We decide to climb the mountain, or make a pact that our children will climb it. The climbing turns out to be unimaginably difficult.”

“The disability rights movement, like other social change movements, names systems of oppression as the probel, not individual bodies. In short it is ableism that needs the cure, not our bodies.”


Why you should read this book

Eli covers a lot of important topics in this book from disability history, queer community, working class issues and environmetnalism weaving his own personal experiences into each of these topics. It provides an important insight into the intersectionality of identities and challenges the reader to question things we accept about society. One of the most important things I got out of this book was the complicated history of freak shows. He mentions how they were extremely exploitative, particularly towards people unable to consent to these practises. How people were sold into freak shows and treated like animals for the entertainment of white middle class victorian society. And yet, some disabled people still got some benefit as they were able to receive some pay, and so when freakshows stopped they again found themselves in a situation of being unable to find employment, because for many people freak shows were the only option that they had.

Written by Jess Edwards, SU Disabled Students' Officer

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